October 25, 2007
Freshmen Make An Immediate Impact at Michigan

By James V. Dowd

On paper, last season's version of the Michigan Wolverines seemed unbeatable. With four first-round NHL Draft picks and a handful of other skaters with pro-level potential, it seemed as though they had all the skill in the world. And once this season's NHL training camps opened, it became more apparent just how talented last year's squad was, with Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano on opening-night rosters and T.J. Hensick and Matt Hunwick ready to step into NHL lineups at any time. But once the season was complete, the Wolverines had produced a familiar result — a disappointing exit from the NCAA Tournament, this time at the hands of North Dakota in the first round.

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Michigan captain Kevin Porter has three goals in four games this season.

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This year, the play of junior goaltender Billy Sauer, or that of freshmen Bryan Hogan or Shawn Hunwick after having replaced him, will ultimately determine how far the Wolverines can go. But the second big question mark hovering over Ann Arbor was just how well this year's crop of freshmen, 12 in all — the largest class in coach Red Berenson's 24 year tenure at Michigan — could contribute offensively to make up for the loss of Cogliano, Johnson and Hensick.

Now four games into the season, the new kids on the block have contributed admirably, with seven of the ten skaters notching at least a point thus far. This wealth of contributions from the freshman class has been a key cog in Michigan's wheel as they have opened 3-1-0 in four road games, with just a one-goal loss to Minnesota two weeks ago.

While these contributions have certainly given Berenson and his staff a reason to believe in the newcomers, perhaps the most important result of this early success is the rookies' faith in themselves.

"(The Minnesota game) told us that with 12 freshmen, a lot of teams are going to try to pick on us," freshman forward Matt Rust, said to reporters in post-game interviews. "It's all about working hard. I think that, if we stick together as a team, there is no limit for us."

Rust, who scored two goals in the loss, was just one freshman star in the Icebreaker Tournament. One night earlier, freshman Louie Caporusso won a hard-fought game against Boston College with an overtime marker when he forced an Eagles' turnover in front of their own net.

And this past weekend in Marquette, while senior captain Kevin Porter led the way with two goals in a 3-1 victory on Friday night, freshman Aaron Palushaj earned an assist on both of Porter's goals and rookie Carl Hagelin, who joined the Wolverines all the way from Sweden this season, iced the game with a late goal.

One night later, five Michigan freshmen found their way to the score sheet in a 4-3 victory which included the first goal of freshman Ben Winnett's career.

Although the more experienced Wolverines give a lot of credit to the newcomers for this early season spark, the freshmen realize that the ability of Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik draw the attention of opposing defenders, and the hustle of older role players opens up space for them.

"I think we have the combination of everything," Caporusso said in post-game interviews after skating with Hagelin and junior Travis Turnbull against Boston College. "Carl brings a lot of speed and a lot of talent to the line. Turnbull brings solid play, he's a hard worker who will run over anybody. I think I bring my playmaking ability. Any one of these guys can finish the puck … they bury it and support each other all over the ice."


Michigan State Still Searching: After falling in an ugly fashion to North Dakota to open their season one week earlier, the Michigan State Spartans were happy to walk away with a sweep of Colgate, in a series which included a special moment in Michigan State history.

Before Friday night's game, the Spartans raised the banner celebrating last April's national championship. But while that was an emotional moment for the returning players and an inspirational one for the new ones on board, senior Bryan Lerg realizes that the team must move on from the shadows of the championship quickly.

"I thought it was good, but you've got to seal it up," Lerg said at a post-game press conference. "We've got to put that behind us. We can't live off of it this entire year because if we do, we're not going anywhere."

While the Spartans walked away with two victories, both were rough around the edges. According to The State News, Michigan State turned the puck over up to 100 times during the weekend series up from a typical 60.

The Spartans also committed eight penalties in each of the games, something coach Rick Comley knows will not work as the league schedule begins. Comley did note that his team was still strong enough to come out on top despite the deficiencies.

"There were a lot of sloppy penalties," Comley said in his post-game press conference. "It's not because it's a rough game, but that disrupted everything. I thought it was a tough game mentally for the guys to get into, and we know they're going to have some of those games, but you have to win tight hockey games."

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Nebraska-Omaha at Miami

The Miami Redhawks proved their mettle as one of the league's top-billed teams after dispatching Ohio State twice in a home-and-home series last weekend. But don't count out the Mavericks, who are looking to prove themselves a worthy contender after losing scoring machines Bill Thomas and Scott Parse in consecutive seasons.

This matchup presents an intriguing combination of offensive firepower and reliable goaltending which might result in a career night for either or both goaltenders or a barnburner which won't help Miami's Jeff Zatkoff or Nebraska-Omaha Jerad Kauffman in their goals against averages, which currently sit first and second in the league.

While You're There: Take a trip down the road to Cincinnati and get yourself some Skyline Chili. It seems as though fall is finally here to stay in the Midwest, so it's not a bad way to warm up. And if you're still around on Sunday check out some of the National Football League's rowdiest fans at Paul Brown Stadium for a rivalry match-up between the Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Stick Salute

Congratulations to former Michigan Wolverine and current Los Angeles Kings forward Michael Cammalleri, who was the NHL's Maurice Richard Award front-runner as of Wednesday. The trophy is awarded annually to the league's leading goal scorer. Cammalleri scored 10 goals in the Kings first 10 games, two more than anyone else in the league. It's also worth noting that former Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson notched the first goal of his young career last Friday night.

Bench Minor

While you hate to pick on a team whose coach is in his first weekend, the Alaska Nanooks are the only CCHA team without a win or tie after being swept in by in-state rival Alaska-Anchorage in the first of two two-game legs in the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup. The sweep marked the first time in 11 seasons that the Nanooks opened up 0-2 — a rough start for new coach Doc DelCastillo.


• While there's always talk of forming a Big Ten hockey league, it's perpetually written off as unlikely while only five of the 11 schools currently field a hockey program. Nevertheless, Ohio State could take a large stride to winning an unofficial Big Ten crown when they travel to the Twin Cities to face Minnesota. The Buckeyes knocked off Wisconsin at the season-opening Lefty McFadden Invitational and skate against Michigan and Michigan State in league play. Each of the five teams skates against the other four this season.

• Although football was the featured attraction at last weekend's Western Michigan homecoming in Kalamazoo, a strong performance by the Broncos lifted the alumni's hangover after a last minute drive gave Ball State a victory on the gridiron. Western's icers came out slowly, but goaltender Riley Gill led them in a 3-1 victory over Bentley with 33 saves.

• The Maverick Stampede seemed an appropriate name for Nebraska-Omaha's season-opening tournament. After rolling over the University of Manitoba in Friday's tournament opener, the Mavericks slammed Alabama-Huntsville with three third period goals in a 5-1 victory in the Stampede Championship game.

• Positive results have been few and far between for the Bowling Green Falcons over the past few seasons, and a league-opening home loss to Notre Dame on Tuesday shows they're not quite ready for the big time, but the team showed some sparks on its opening roadtrip. The Falcons lost to Niagara 2-0 on Friday before downing RIT 5-3 the next night. Captain Derek Whitmore accounted for two goals in the victory, once again marking him as the man to watch in Bowling Green

• For all the returning firepower in the CCHA, after a handful of games to open the season, it is Notre Dame freshman Ben Ryan who sits atop the league scoring race. Ryan has notched 1 goal and 5 assists in his first five games for the Fighting Irish, but is far from running away with the race, as four players are tied with 5 points.

• Beginning the season with two series against non-conference foes Union and Wayne State, Ferris State has really been spreading around the offensive wealth. The Bulldogs have scored nine goals in their opening four games and each of the nine has been scored by a different player. In all, Ferris has 24 points on the score sheet, and 15 different players have scored at least one point.

• In Sault Ste. Marie, one question was just how solid the Lake Superior State net would be without all-world goaltender Jeff Jakaitis in town anymore. So far, junior Pat Inglis has stepped in adequately, holding a 2.90 goals against average and making 58 saves in two games. Unfortunately for Inglis, the Lakers have struggled on the offensive end, and he has only a loss and a tie to show for it.

• While there was a lot of turnover in the off-season, Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle had to expect more from his special teams units than he has seen thus far. The Wildcats lost to Michigan on a short-handed goal in the waning seconds of the third period last Saturday, and gave up two power play goals to the Wolverines one night earlier. In all, Northern Michigan has given up 7 power play goals in just 25 attempts.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached at james@insidecollegehockey.com.